​Data61, Defence partner for seL4 microkernel-based network access tool

The Cross-Domain Desktop Compositor is expected to enable Defence and public sector employees to access multiple networks through a single interface without compromising security or function.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor on

Data61 and the Australian government's Defence Science and Technology Group (DST) have partnered to build a Cross-Domain Desktop Compositor (CDDC), a single interface powered by Data61's seL4 microkernel operating system that gives users access to multiple computer networks.

Currently, government and Department of Defence staff use multiple segregated computer networks to maintain and protect classified data. The CDDC is expected to fix the existing process, with Data61 noting existing market solutions provide a trade-off between security and usability.

"Those that favour usability over security are generally vulnerable to cyber-attacks, resulting in leakage of secret data from one network to another," the CSIRO's innovation arm said in a statement. "In contrast, those that favour security over usability prohibit simultaneous access to data from multiple domains on the same screen."

Data61's seL4 microkernel operating system is also used in autonomous helicopters and trucks, as well as in DST's hardware security innovation.

"We have proved that seL4 enforces very strong security requirements, and is free of many classes of security vulnerabilities that plague commodity systems," Toby Murray, senior researcher in Data61's Trustworthy Systems Team, said.

"In the CDDC, we are using seL4 to support an integrated view of information, while providing fine-grained control of information flows, including controlled cut-and-paste between separate networks."

While Defence is the first focus market for the CDDC, Data61 has touted the new piece of tech as having broad applications across government and enterprise, as well as critical infrastructure, banking, health, and autonomous systems.

"In an age where security is at a premium, a new approach to cybersecurity is needed," DST researcher Mark Beaumont explained. "The CDDC platform is an example of how we can fundamentally change the way real-world systems are built and engineered, with trustworthiness assured to the highest degree possible without sacrificing usability."

The Australian Department of Defence has successfully trialled the system, and Data61 now plans to market the CDDC.

"We have developed a roadmap to commercialise this product with the defence market and support from the Defence Innovation Hub," Data61 CEO Adrian Turner added.

"We will also enable a local supply chain to develop the platform for further global applications."

Speaking with ZDNet in July, Turner said that in order for Australia to continue to grow, the country needs to create new industries and help accelerate the growth of existing industries, noting that this can only happen by embracing technology and adjusting Australia's culture.

"We've got all the ingredients, and I think the biggest handbrake on the country is cultural," Turner said.

"If we can shift that mindset, because we've got everything else -- we really do have everything else -- there's nothing that will hold us back. And I think we will, it's only going to take a handful of successes and more people in the country thinking and talking differently and it will happen very quickly."

Earlier this week, Data61 and the Australian National University in Canberra partnered to establish a new research initiative -- the 3A Institute -- to tackle the broader spectrum of problems around artificial intelligence.

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